Police investigators have warned that thousands of foreign nurses with faked qualifications could be working in the NHS right now. The revelation comes following the conviction of Filipino nurse Victorino Chua for the murdering two patients and poisoning 20 others in 2011 after using forged photocopied documents to secure a job in Manchester.
Chua faces a lifetime in jail today when he returns to court for sentencing. But the case has raised serious concerns over the way foreign nurses are assessed and monitored when applying for NHS jobs, the Telegraph has reported.
Chua came to Britain in 2002 on a two year working visa. He managed to gain employment at Stepping Hill hospital, Greater Manchester, where the murders took place, by submitting photocopies of his medical certificates.
But prosecutors traveling to Manila to investigate his background have spoken of their concern that those documents were forgeries themselves. With 90,000 nurses registered to work in the UK were trained overseas, the implications of the case are clear. Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor in the North West was so concerned that he was moved to write to the Department of Health and the Home Office to raise the issue.
“In all my 24 years as a prosecutor, I have never escalated concerns to another government department except in this case,” he told BBC North West:
“I do not know whether there were hundreds or thousands or dozens. What I do know is the opportunities were there for them to lie about their qualifications, to obtain them fraudulently, and to cover up their disciplinary matters. It must be, for all patients, extremely worrying and desperately concerning.”
Following the voicing of concerns, the Nursing Midwifery Council (NMC), which registers the half million nurses working in the NHS, launched a major review of overseas trained staff working within the NHS.
They checked the backgrounds of more than 14,000 non-EU nurses, including 11,500 from the Philippines, currently working in the UK but claim to have found no similar forgery cases. No nurses have been struck off following the review.
However, the obvious deficiencies in the system have prompted an overhaul of the way it is run. Last October the government tightened the rules for overseas staff wanting to work in the UK, who must now pass a series of competency tests. The system, which is similar to that used by the General Medical Council (GMC) to assess doctors, will come into force this October, but has already been criticised as nothing more than an exercise in box-ticking.
Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern, said: “The NMC has a huge brief beyond its capabilities. With more than half a million nurses registered this will inevitably take a long time to carry out and if, like with the GMC system, it finds that 99.3 per cent of those tested are sound then you have to wonder if it will be anything more than a bureaucratic ritual.”
This is not the first time concerns have been raised over the ability of foreign workers to forge documents in order to gain work in the public sector. In March, an illegal immigrant was handed a suspended sentence in court after gaining work in the Palace of Westminster using nothing more than a faked passport with her photo glued onto it. In that case, no one came to harm.